Despite Uncertainty, Valley "Dreamers" Hope For A Comprehensive Replacement
Back in September, President Trump announced that the Obama-era DACA program would end in six months. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals gave many immigrants who came to the U.S. as children the opportunity to pursue higher education and work in America. Congress is struggling to agree on a replacement, and DACA recipients have little to fall back.
One such DACA recipient is Antonio Jauregui.
Last year, Jauregui took a trip to the mecca of American politics, where he attended a march and rally that highlighted Dreamers: undocumented immigrants who came to America as kids.
“I was in Washington, D.C. to advocate for a clean Dream Act,” says Jauregui. “To share my story, to highlight the DACA recipients that are in the Valley, that are in Fresno and California.”
Jauregui wants to live in the nation’s capital someday.
“My goal is I want to have an office there in D.C. and I want it to be an elected office,” Jauregui explains.
Jauregui came to the U.S. when he was five, and calls the Central Valley home. Under DACA, he is now a college student studying political science. Eventually, he was wants to represent the valley as an elected official in Washington, D.C.
“Fresno is a community that has raised me well and I want to give back to it,” Jauregui says. “And I can't do that unless there is a Dream Act passed.”
By Dream Act, Jauregui is referring to legislation that would continue the legacy of Obama’s DACA program. If it becomes law, many who already qualify for DACA could continue to live and work in the U.S. Right now, however, it’s hard to tell if that will happen.
Thomas Holyoke is a Political Science professor at Fresno State. He says President Trump announced an end to DACA to negotiate for a wall along the Mexican-American border.
“I think in his mind, he’s using this as leverage on Democrats for his wall,” Holyoke explains. “The wall is what matters to him. If he didn't need the leverage then I have a suspicion, and it's only a suspicion, that he would largely ignore the DACA students.”
This has put local Republican lawmakers in a difficult spot.
“The wild card here is just exactly what Congressional Republicans are going to do,” says Holyoke. “Many of them have expressed support for DACA, including many California congressional Republicans, including those from the Valley.”
While the legislative debate continues, the legal options for DACA recipients are difficult to pin down.
Gregory Olson is a professor at San Joaquin College of Law and the director of the New American Legal Clinic. Olson says that if the DACA program expires with no replacement, it’s hard to tell who might be at the highest risk of deportation.
“For someone who is a DACA recipient, if there’s nothing new comes up, they go back to having no status and no protection from deportation,” Olson explains.
The Obama administration was focused on deporting those convicted of crimes. Under the Trump administration, that has changed.
“Sometimes the actions by ICE have seemed very arbitrary and what we're actually seeing is that a lot of ICE's action are random people,” says Olson. “It's not as much targeted toward people that would make sense as showing up on a database of people that need to be deported.”
Despite the seemingly random actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, many local leaders and organizations have expressed support and provided resources for DACA recipients and other immigrants.
Miguel Arias is with Fresno Unified School District. He says the district felt the impact of the new presidency even before the DACA announcement. The first “wave” came after the election, specifically when high school seniors were supposed to be preparing to graduate.
“We saw the decline in college applications being submitted and Dream Act applications in California being completed,” says Arias.
The second wave, he explains came with the announcement to eliminate DACA. Families were worried, students were missing class, and group of high schoolers almost staged a walkout in support of their undocumented peers.
So, the district opened their Dream Resource Center at Manchester Mall in September, a month earlier than they had planned.
“Fresno Unified felt compelled to go beyond expressing support to actually providing services for our immigrant students and families,” says Arias.
Through a combination of federal and private funds, the Center has been doing a variety of work, from processing DACA applications to offering language courses to ESL learners.
Arias says they’ve processed over 200 DACA applications since they opened. And with the window for DACA renewals also reopened after a recent court ruling, Arias is hoping more people take advantage of their services.
But, for Jauregui, who someday wants to run for elected office, living under DACA just isn’t enough.
“I’m a DACA beneficiary, and I understand that it's really hard to build a life on a 2-year increment,” Jauregui says. “My only option, my only goal is a Dream Act.”
Congress has yet to approve a solution or alternative to DACA. Both parties have agreed to discuss immigration before the passage of a spending bill in early February. However, if nothing changes, the program will end in March and DACA recipients could eventually be at risk of deportation.